Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Global Consciousness

You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, ‘Look at that, you son of a bitch. -  Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Farewell Mr. Armstrong

Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, poses for his NASA portrait ahead of his historic Apollo 11 mission in July 1969
Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon,
poses for his NASA portrait ahead of his historic
Apollo 11 mission in July 1969.

Neil Armstrong, the first human ever to walk on the surface of the moon, died Saturday, August 25, at age 82.

Armstrong was catapulted onto the world stage on July 20, 1969, when, as commander of NASA's Apollo 11 mission, he stepped on to the moon's surface for the first time and said words that will forever be remembered: "That is one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind."

Armstrong died due to complications from recent heart surgery. He was a Navy test pilot before joining NASA's astronaut corps in 1962 and was one of a handful of pilots to fly the X-15 rocket.

"We will never forget that one small step you took so the rest of us could take a giant leap toward the stars."

Information and image source NASA

Man and Machine

Deus et machina - where the human mind meets the  technology it created
 Deus et machina - where the human mind meets the technology it created

By Clara Moskovitz

Humans and robots appear to be coming closer than ever in a NASA photo that features the International Space Station's Robonaut-2 paying tribute to a famous Michelangelo painting.

NASA engineers recently set up the photo to show the humanoid-shaped Robonaut 2 reaching out to touch an astronaut's gloved finger. The picture calls to mind the famous panel from the Vatican's Sistine Chapel that shows the hand of God reaching out to give life to Adam.

In the NASA photo, called "Man and Machine," the astronaut plays the role of God, while Robonaut's hand appears in place of Adam's. It's a fitting allusion to the robot as a child of humans. 

"It was staged with Michelangelo's painting in mind," Casey Joyce, Robonaut operations lead at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, told "We felt it was symbolic of closing the technology gap between robotic technology and human capability."

Michelangelo painted his famous ceiling masterpiece between 1508 and 1512. The work, which was commissioned by Pope Julius II, covers a huge Papal chapel inside Vatican City in Rome. The famous Creation of Adam panel is part of a series from the Bible's Book of Genesis in the ceiling's fresco painting.

Robonaut-2 is a dexterous machine built by NASA and General Motors to help out astronauts working on the International Space Station. The $2.5 million space bot was launched on the space shuttle Discovery in February 2011, and has been running through checkouts and tests ever since.

In February, Robonaut-2 shook an astronaut's hand for the first time. Earlier this month, the robot passed a big milestone when it used a tool for the first time to complete a job that used to require station astronauts. On March 14, Robonaut-2 successfully used a gauge to measure air flow in front of various vents on the outpost - a task that must be done every 90 days or so.

"Robonaut is healthy and has been performing very well," Joyce said. Next month, Robonaut-2 is scheduled to perform its first jobs involving flipping switches and buttons on a taskboard.

The robot's human team of operators and engineers on the ground were so proud of their creation that they decided to showcase it in the photo-op, which shows just how special Robonaut-2 is. It's hard to distinguish its gracefully curling hand from the astronaut's glove in the picture.

"I don’t believe we'll ever achieve a future where robots can do everything a human can do," Joyce said. "It will certainly never able to replace human ingenuity and drive in capability. Our goal is really to help the crew members complete their tasks."

About the author:

Clara Moskovitz is  Assistant Managing Editor since 2011, and has been writing for and LiveScience since 2008. Clara has a bachelor's degree in astronomy and physics from Wesleyan University, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. You can follow her on Twitter @ClaraMoskowitz. Follow for the latest in space science and exploration news on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

Article and image source

Thursday, August 23, 2012

My Sisters the Stars

My sisters, the stars
Are overwhelmingly radiant tonight.
I am interpenetrated by their glow.
I feel a shiver creeping along my spine.
Was I one of them? Is the pulse of my heart
A part of the cosmic beat of the rhythm of the stars?

I don't have an urge to dwell in the stars
Because I am there already. They are in me.
Smiling with joy when I write poetry
Thinking through my mind when I think philosophy.
As I look into my destiny I ask the stars:
What do you want me to become?
They tell me to transcend all human measures
And promise a life beyond human horizons.
Is this the cause of the shiver that runs along my spine?

Oh, my sister stars, how beautiful you are!
May I bask in your inexhaustible energy?
May I live to the promise
Contained in the radiance of your glow?
May I redeem you
By helping to redeem the human race?
May I continue the cycle you have started
From the cosmic dust to the Cosmic Christ?
May I glow to enlighten the path of all beings?

By Henryk Skolimowski 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Taming the Monkey Mind

 Monkeys and the Buddha at Phra Prang Sam Yot, 
Lop Buri, Thailand

The Five Minutes Cure for Your Monkey Mind by Ron Atchison 

We're all looking for the right answers, aren't we? We look in self-help books and churches and seek out teachers and therapists and gurus and astrologists and some folks even hire fortune tellers. But what if I told you the best way to find what you're looking for is to stop looking?


Sometimes we look and search too much. Our minds are filled with knowledge, facts and philosophies but we never find peace because we can't stop thinking!

Many Buddhist teachers refer to this phenomenon as 'monkey-mind' because it's similar to the way a monkey will swing from tree to tree tasting a banana from each one before dropping it and moving to the next tree. Like these monkeys, we often jump from thought to thought without ever really being in the present moment.

The cure for this is to make a conscious effort to quiet the mind. Or take what I like to refer to as a 'mental vacation.'

There are many different techniques for this but the easiest way is to find a quiet place, close your eyes and simply concentrate on your breathing. That's it. You don't have to be a yogi or a meditation master and you don't need any special equipment. If you have eyelids and a pair of lungs you are properly equipped!

Now, when your mind starts to wander (and it will!) do not be overly-concerned. Let that thought float away like a cloud in the sky and bring your attention back to your breathing.

The goal is to quiet your mind as much as possible... to be totally aware of your thoughts as they come in and go out, understanding that they are just thoughts... just clouds passing through on an otherwise sunny day.

Buddha's Monkey by Frédéric Blais-Bélange

With a little bit of practice you'll get good at this! When you first start out try it for five or ten minutes. Even in this short amount of time you'll notice a difference in the way you think and feel. But with extended and daily practice you'll see major improvements in your health and overall well-being.

There are many reasons for this but all we really need to know is that a calm and uncluttered mind is a vibrant mind. It is fertile and alive with creative energy. It has the ability to perfectly regulate millions of simultaneous activities without any conscious effort and in this same way can bring us everything else we desire.

So the next time you feel overwhelmed or you just can't find the answer you're looking for, remember to stop swinging from tree to tree. Take a deep breath, quiet your mind and enjoy every precious minute of your mental vacation. 

For more inspiration, please visit Ron's fabulous website

Image source here & here

Friday, August 17, 2012

Cabinet of Curiosities

Originally, a cabinet of curiosities, also known as a cabinet of wonders or the Wnderkammer, was an intricate piece of furniture designed in Italy during the Renaissance for storing and display of rare and precious objects.

By the 17th century, a cabinet of curiosities had evolved into a room within a house in which ever growing private collections of curios and oddities were displayed.

Keeping in par with the developments in natural sciences, men of social distinction began collecting prints, ancient manuscripts, fossils, rocks, shells, feathers, insects, taxidermied animals, antlers, and preserved specimen with congenital deformities or the wax models of such. 

Such eclectic collections bore testimony to a slightly morbid fascination with the bizarre, but they were also a proof of man's growing desire to better understand the physical world that surrounded him. They seemed to satisfy his hunger for knowledge and the need to explore the world.

This almost puerile curiosity was paired with a compulsion to gather the most unique or exotic specimen and gave birth to an entire industry. Not only the adequate display cases had to be made, but the specimen had to be collected and preserved. Those who could not travel to far away places had to resort to other means. They purchased their treasures from antiquaries and curio shops.

With time, these collections grew in size and complexity and began losing their randomness. They became invaluable precursors to a more elaborate enterprise, namely, the museum of natural history, where a thorough classification and systematization of specimen was taken into a new level after Charles Darwin presented his Theory of Evolution.

Institutions such as the Royal Society or the Smithsonian Institution promoted learning and intellectual curiosity and contributed greatly to a systematic research and collecting.

What began as a hobby of a few cultured and curious men was transformed into a scientific endeavor to mark humanity's  place on this planet and put it in a greater context of evolution.

By Dominique Allmon ©2012

Images source here

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Antilope - A Scent of Distinction

Antilope by Weil

Long forgotten and mostly unknown, Antilope by Weil was my favorite fragrance in late 70s. Sweet, woody, and elegant, it suited my taste back than. It was probably much too extravagant for a young person, but I liked it a lot. It came in a tiny bottle with a stopper. The scent is well etched into my olfactory memory even if I have a slight difficulty describing it today. It was fresh and wild and musky at the same time. I was mesmerized when I first smelled it.

Antilope was launched in 1945 by a Parisian furrier Les Fourrures Weil upon their return from American exile. 

The House of Weil made furs since 1912, but following the trend, launched its first fragrance in 1928. A number of fragrances were created at that time by various perfume makers to mask the unpleasant smell that a fur coat would exude with age. The specially designed fur fragrance was to camouflage the smell without damaging the fur coat. 

The House of Weil made its first fur fragrance at the direct request of a wealthy client. Weil's first fragrance was the Zibeline made in 1928 by the legendary Claude Frayssee and his daughter Jacqueline. A few more followed until the outbreak of the second World War when the Weils were forced into exile. The war did not really interrupt their creativity as they continued to make furs in the United States. Their return to Europe at the end of war was marked by the launch of two luxurious fragrances - Antilope and Padisha.

Antilope is an elegant, but slightly old fashioned floral woody aldehydic chypre perfume. It reminds me rather of the glamorous and capricious ladies who accompanied their husbands on African safaris rather than of the wild scent of hunted game.

There is something luxurious and exotic about the perfume whose "soul" is full of temperament - more like a difficult to catch antelope than a wild animal trying to attack its prey.

The top note is composed of neroli, bergamot and aldehydes that open to fresh and floral  heart of clary sage, rose, lily of the valley, jasmine, carnation, iris and violet. This olfactory structure rests on a woody base with a touch of musk and amber: sandalwood, vetiver, patchouli, tonka bean, amber, oak moss and musk.

I haven't smelled the Antilope for ages. I thought Antilope had disappeared from the market, but when the company was restructured in 2002 under a new ownership, the perfume was re-launched in a new, fresher, more herbal and  slightly less "powdery" version of the old classic. Who knows, I might even give it a try.

By Dominique Allmon ©2012

Images source here

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Golden Middle

Fibonacci Spiral
 Fibonacci Spiral - The Golden Middle

When men acquire something, they never get only what they desire and nothing more; when men reject something, they never rid themselves only of what they hate and nothing more. Therefore, when men act, it must be on the basis of some scale or standard. If a balance is not properly adjusted, then heavy objects will rise in the air and men will suppose they are light, and light objects will sink down so that men suppose they are heavy. Hence men become deluded as to the true weight of the objects.

Similarly, if man's standards are not correct, then misfortune may come in the guise of what they desire, and they will construe it as good fortune, or good fortune may come in the guise of what they hate and they will mistake it for misfortune. In this way, men become deluded as to the true nature of good and bad fortune. The Way is the proper standard for past and present. He who departs from the Way and makes arbitrary choices on the basis of his own judgment does not understand wherein fortune and misfortune lie.

Hsun Tzu

Image by Rodney Young

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Curiosity on Mars

 Mars Rover Curiosity

A week ago on August 5, NASA successfully landed its most advanced rover Curiosity on Mars. This landing marks another giant step in space exploration.

The one-ton rover, hanging by ropes from a rocket backpack, touched down onto Mars surface last Sunday to end a 36-week long flight and begin its two-year surface investigation.

The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) spacecraft that carried Curiosity succeeded in every step of the most complex landing ever attempted on Mars, including the final severing of the bridle cords and flyaway maneuver of the rocket backpack.

"Today, the wheels of Curiosity have begun to blaze the trail for human footprints on Mars. Curiosity, the most sophisticated rover ever built, is now on the surface of the Red Planet, where it will seek to answer age-old questions about whether life ever existed on Mars - or if the planet can sustain life in the future," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. "This is an amazing achievement, made possible by a team of scientists and engineers from around the world and led by the extraordinary men and women of NASA and our Jet Propulsion Laboratory. President Obama has laid out a bold vision for sending humans to Mars in the mid-2030's, and today's landing marks a significant step toward achieving this goal."

Curiosity landed near the foot of a mountain three miles tall and 96 miles in diameter inside Gale Crater. During a nearly two-year prime mission, the rover will investigate whether the region ever offered conditions favorable for microbial life.

Successful landing

"The Seven Minutes of Terror has turned into the Seven Minutes of Triumph," said NASA Associate Administrator for Science John Grunsfeld. "My immense joy in the success of this mission is matched only by overwhelming pride I feel for the women and men of the mission's team."

Curiosity returned its first view of Mars, a wide-angle scene of rocky ground near the front of the rover. More images are anticipated in the next several days as the mission blends observations of the landing site with activities to configure the rover for work and check the performance of its instruments and mechanisms.

Curiosity carries 10 science instruments with a total mass 15 times as large as the science payloads on the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity. Some of the tools are the first of their kind on Mars, such as a laser-firing instrument for checking elemental composition of rocks from a distance. The rover will use a drill and scoop at the end of its robotic arm to gather soil and powdered samples of rock interiors, then sieve and parcel out these samples into analytical laboratory instruments inside the rover.

To handle this science toolkit, Curiosity is twice as long and five times as heavy as the other Mars rovers - the Spirit and the Opportunity. 

The Gale Crater landing site places the rover within driving distance of layers of the crater's interior mountain. Observations from orbit have identified clay and sulfate minerals in the lower layers, indicating a wet history. 

High resolution image from Mars

To satisfy our and NASA's curiosity, the rover began sending images from Mars. The images from Curiosity's just-activated navigation cameras, or Navcams, include the rover's first self-portrait, looking down at its deck from above. Another Navcam image set, in lower-resolution thumbnails, is the first 360-degree view of Curiosity's new home in Gale Crater. We also had a chance to admire a higher-resolution images providing the most detailed depiction to date of the surface adjacent to the rover.

Meanwhile, a healthy Curiosity spent Sol 4, its fifth day on Mars, preparing for this weekend's planned "brain transplant" - a transitioning to a new version of flight software on both of its redundant main computers. The new software is better suited for Mars surface operations, such as driving and using Curiosity's robotic arm. 

Image from Mars - Mount Sharp

The "brain transplant" will take place during a series of steps beginning this evening and continuing through Aug. 13. The new software was uploaded to the rover's memory during the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft's flight from Earth. Key capabilities in the new software enable full use of Curiosity's powerful robotic arm and drill, and advanced image processing to check for obstacles while driving. This will ultimately allow Curiosity to make longer drives by giving the rover more autonomy to identify and avoid potential hazards and to drive along a safe path that the rover identifies for itself.

Most of us will probably forget about this mission by the end of the Summer, but for countless scientists Curiosity opens new horizons. The data coming from Mars will help them in their next endeavor - a manned Mission to Mars.

Information source NASA 
Images source NASA

Space - The Missing Frontier

Stellar cluster NGC 2467 in southern constellation of Puppis
The last frontier?
Stellar cluster NGC 2467 in southern constellation of Puppis

By Douglas Mackinnon

As most of us who have worked in and around politics for any length of time know, if a certain issue is not an immediate vote-getter or “tangible” for a politician, there is a better than even chance that the issue will be ignored or deposited upon the furthest back-burner.

For many of our elected officials, everyday political calculation comes down to this: “What’s best for my re-election and what’s best for my party?” In that order. With fewer and fewer people in power whose first thought is: “What’s the best decision I can make that will be in the best interests of my constituents?” It’s no wonder that more young people are giving up on politics while their elders abandon the political parties to become Independents.

While the if-it’s-not-tangible-and-I-can’t-game-it-immediately-to-my-benefit test may be great for a politician, it’s often very bad for the country. “Tangible” being political slang for “that federal office building will now be located in my district.”

As for the “non-tangible,” a great example would be our space program. Or to be more accurate, our non-space program. It has never really been relevant for most of our politicians or presidents. The truth is that only one president really thought that space exploration was a tangible national vote-getter.

Whatever his real motivation, on Sept.12, 1962 at Rice University, John F. Kennedy stated in no uncertain terms that in the interests of science, industry and national security, the United States would become the “world’s leading spacefaring nation.” And so we did – for nearly five decades.

Today, that preeminence is nothing more than a fading memory. While President Obama - who as a candidate made it very clear that he valued education over space exploration - may have pushed our human spaceflight program over the cliff, other presidents led it to the edge.

With Florida a key battleground state in the presidential election, the White House and the political appointees at NASA will argue furiously that the president has not walked away from our human space program. They will point to his plans to land astronauts on the asteroids one day. Right. That goal, exactly like George H.W. Bush’s plan in 1989 to send astronauts to Mars, is simply fiction.

I worked in politics for a long time, but I began life as a space geek. I started a scrapbook on the Soviet space program when I was 10 and decades later got to write a book about the 12 men who have walked on the moon. After my time in government, I worked as a consultant for NASA and the Space Shuttle team. In other words, I admit that I have always been a fan of humans in space. Any humans in space.

That said, the humans who are now winning the space race come from the People’s Republic of China. It is clear from their own propaganda that China means to replace us as the “world’s leading spacefaring nation.”

It has been argued in the past that while the United States and other Western nations see the future in terms of months or years, the Chinese see it in terms of decades or even centuries. With that perspective in mind, the Chinese government intends to win not the space race, but the space marathon. They intend to take military, industrial and scientific advantage there.

After the just completed launch and recovery of China’s first female astronaut - Liu Yang, who with two male astronauts, was part of a very successful 13 day mission to dock with a Chinese space station - many in the media covered it as a human-interest story or even a politically correct equal-rights story. Nice, but the completely wrong way to view the Chinese achievement.

Naïve and irresponsible beliefs aside, China’s space program is essentially military. Its every function is designed to carry out a military objective or one that improves the welfare of the state. Nothing else matters to the Chinese leadership.

Toward that end, the Chinese government has been investing a great deal of time and talent in a wide range of anti-satellite weapons and technologies. Aside from direct ascent kinetic kill vehicles (like the one it tested in 2007), the Chinese military space program is also working on laser, jamming, microwave and cyber-weapons.

Why?  Because the Chinese leadership - the same leadership that has made hacking our military and commercial computers a priority - understands that no nation on earth is more dependent for its overall survival on its satellites than the United States. Satellites control our military communications, our financial transactions and our day-to-day lives. What if they went dark or were destroyed in orbit?

The Chinese leaders - and others - would certainly say that a military advantage in space is “tangible” and a goal worth attaining. But preeminence is space is about much more than military advantage.  Neil deGrasse Tyson, the director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, outlined that argument when he told Popular Science earlier this year:
If China sets up a permanent base on the moon, and tries to explore Mars on a time scale shorter than ours, that will be another space race. I am just certain of it. I am trying to get people to do this without having to view it as an act of war, or an act of a response to an adversary. One way is because of economics; the government could do this, and they could say, “The economic return is the scientists and technologists who invent the new tomorrow.” Space exploration is the carrot that incites people to become scientifically literate. So I view it as an economic development plan.
Maybe it’s time for the president and his Republican opponent to elevate a few issues to the “tangible” list regardless of personal or partisan self-interest. As China launches military satellite after military satellite while declaring its intention to colonize the moon, maybe preeminence in space should be one of them.

During the transition period after he defeated John McCain, Obama contemplated combining the best of the space programs at the Pentagon and NASA to compete with the rapidly accelerating Chinese space program. For whatever reasons, he declined to follow through on that plan when he became president.

The president should dust off those plans. Given the fact that during the height of the war in Iraq, our government was spending nearly a billion dollars a day, I suspect the American people would support spending a month’s worth of that budget every year to ensure that our assets in space and our future on earth are more secure. But to support it, they first need to be convinced of its importance. So do our leaders.

About the author:

Douglas MacKinnon was a press secretary to former Senator Bob Dole. He was also a writer for Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and a special assistant for policy and communications in the Defense Department. He is the author, most recently, of a memoir, Rolling Pennies in the Dark.

Image source
Article source New York Times

Friday, August 10, 2012

Ants and Other Great Medicines

 Cabinet of curiosities

Great Medicines is an unpublished book by Gary J. Lockart (1942-2001)


The medicine of our ancestors was a wonderful mixture of trash and treasures. Most of it was imagination and superstition, but there were real discoveries as well. The twentieth century saw scientists delving into the molecular basis of life. In spite of all their discoveries, some of humanity’s basic medical conditions seemed to be almost hopeless. The newer doctors derided the practices of the past, for they believed that their answers were more scientific. 

We have forgotten the old medical secrets, and they have been nearly left out of medical history, but history should be studied. In an earlier era a prescription might read: “Rx: take two leeches, one spider and a dozen ants.” Now we are educated and we know these as relics of the past. Yet ants were once valued as a cure for arthritis. Spider venom holds promise as a cure for muscular dystrophy. Leeches are used in modern surgery for reattaching ears and fingers. 

Natural history print "Anthropodes"

Superstition is sometimes relative to our level of examination of it. In 1929 a Scottish bacteriologist wrote: “The penicillin molds are pleasant enough. We are content to use them to bring our Camembert and Roquefort cheeses into a pleasant condition of ripeness and in that respect I would not miss them. But beyond that and especially with a view to therapy in medicine, these molds are completely worthless.” Fifteen years later these molds were producing large quantities of penicillin, our first wonder drug! From Helmuth Bottcher’s Wonder Drugs - A History of Antibiotics. 

In 1992 the Declaration of Helsinki of the World Medical Association read: “In the treatment of the sick person the physician must be free to use a new diagnostic and therapeutic measure, if in his or her judgement, it offers hope of saving life, re-establishing health or alleviating suffering.” The AMA signed this declaration. If we cannot cure people with operations and unaffordable medicines, we need to look at the past and see what others have used. 

The idea of wonder drugs permeates medicine today. I am told that a newly minted doctor has spent nearly a year of schooling memorizing thousands of drugs and their indications in order to give instant advice. Sir William Osler once wrote: “One of the first duties of the physician is to educate the masses not to take medicine. Remember how much you do not know. Do not put strange medicines into your patients.” 

Healing power exists in the mind and this is why much of ancient medicine worked. The modern placebo is an adaptation of an ancient practice of some type of visualization, the doing of which brings relief or healing. A second part of healing exists in stimulation of the body. This may be walking, exercise, or applied externally as in massage to stimulate the muscles and nerves. A third part of healing is in biochemically active compounds coming from plants, insects and nature. This area has received the most publicity. 

Paracelsus wrote: “The power of imagination is a great factor in medicine. It may produce diseases in man and in animals and it may cure them. But this is not done by the powers of symbols or characters made in wax or being written on paper, but by an imagination, which perfects the will. All the imagination of man comes from the heart. The heart is the seed of the microcosm, and from that seed the imagination proceeds into the macrocosm. Thus the imagination of man is a seed that becomes materialized or corporeal.” 

I began my study of medicine in 1976 as a quest for forgotten herbal remedies. As I worked my way through millions of pages of literature, I began to save odd notes. This book is a collection of these notes. Many items could be of value today, but most need the touch of modern science. This book is not written as a medical advice book, but as an exploration of history. In case of illness, see a qualified health practitioner. 

By Gary J. Lockart

This book is available online in a pdf format
Image source here and here

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Secret Path

 The secret path

Every time I have a chance, I take a walk in the woods. There is nothing more satisfying than a cool atmosphere of an old forest. The sounds and smells are unforgettable. To me they always seem familiar; a crack of dry twigs under the shoes, chirping of the birds in the distance, the scent of wild herbs mingling together with the unique green fragrance of ferns, moss and decaying wood. 

 Stinging nettles

Every forest seems both mysterious and familiar at the same time, and each time you come back, it seems as if it were altered by some magic. You never enter the same forest twice. Heraclitus might have thought of that...

Wild blackberries

For me a forest opens a door to childhood memories. There was not a single  Summer that we did not travel to a forest to hunt mushrooms or pick blueberries, blackberries and wild strawberries. My parents, who were big city folks, taught me all I needed to know about mushrooms, herbs and berries.  Although I have not applied this knowledge for a very long time, I never forgot what I learned as a child. And I would like to learn more!

 Rosa rugosa

A few days ago I had a chance to take a walk in a small forest. Naturally, I could not resist my old instinct to pick up something edible. I found ripe blackberries and stinging nettles. There even was a small bush of wild roses. I did not have a basket with me, so the booty wasn't large, but the entire experience was incredibly satisfying. I ate the berries and left the nettles and rose petals to dry in the sun. They will make a wonderful herbal tea.

The booty

When I think of it now, foraging seemed very natural when I was a child. I can imagine that those who did so as children would take every chance to forage in their later age.

In fact, the foraging as a movement is experiencing a comeback of sorts. Books are being published and the bloggosphere is full of information for those who wish to learn more about edible wild plants. 

The food is abundant out there. One simply has to stretch the hand out and pick what is growing freely on meadows, in the fields or in the forest. 

By Dominique Allmon ©2012

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Heart Meditation

By Luke Storms

The practice of meditation bestows a myriad of health benefits including increased concentration and a general feeling of well-being. But undoubtedly one of the most important benefits is reduced stress and improved heart health.

Heart disorders are common in today’s always-on-call, wired world. People suffer an estimated 70,000 heart attacks each year in Canada, and the number of people living with some form of heart disease is steadily increasing.

Rigorous scientific studies have proven that regular meditation practice has powerful health benefits that can lower high cholesterol levels and normalize blood pressure.

Scientific Support

An article published in the American Heart Association’s journal Stroke (2000), demonstrated the effects of teaching meditation to people suffering from atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).

Utilizing ultrasound technology, researchers found that people who practiced meditation for 20 minutes twice a day for seven months reduced the amount of plaque (fatty deposits) in their arteries. They reduced their overall heart attack risk by up to 11 percent and their stroke risk by up to 15 percent. Meditation may trigger the body’s self-repair mechanisms.

Previous studies have shown that meditation can also lower blood pressure, another major risk factor for heart disease. Researchers reported that people who practiced meditation had lower blood levels of stress-related biochemicals, including serotonin and adrenaline. Meditation also increased the formation of nitric oxide, which causes blood vessels to open up. This, in turn, lowered blood pressure.

In 2004 the American Journal of Hypertension reported the results of a study which showed a significant lowering of blood pressure in a group of adolescent African-American meditators compared to a control group that didn’t meditate.

Heart Health

These results reveal that meditation is not only a method of relaxation and stress management, but it can also have a profound influence on the heart and its activity. Scientific studies indicate that meditating for just 20 minutes a day can result in a healthier and stronger heart.

In meditation we have to start where we are. In the beginning the most important thing is to develop the habit of meditating every day and not to be too concerned about how much time to allocate for it. Start with five or 10 minutes daily until you are comfortable with longer periods of time. You can even take a two-minute breathing break several times during the day.

Meditation is a skill that requires practice and more practice. Your heart will benefit from the deep relaxation and stress reduction that meditation brings.

Quick Meditation

Need to quickly relax or find some immediate inner calm? A simple 3-step breathing meditation can be effective when you have almost no time at all.
  1. Just take a long, slow, deep breath in and feel the air fill your lungs.
  2. When your lungs are full, hold the breath for a second or two; keep your mind clear or simply tell yourself to relax.
  3. Now slowly exhale all the air in your lungs. Repeat
Take five to 10 of these deep breaths to quickly feel calm and more relaxed.
Try meditating when you are:
  • waiting in line at the grocery store
  • preparing dinner
  • doing the dishes
  • sitting in traffic
  • feeling upset

About the author:

Luke Storms is a freelance writer currently based in Toronto. To visit his blog please click here

Article source here
Image source: world wide web

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Extraordinary Nature of Everyday Life

 The ingredients

Dissatisfied with their everyday lives, many people look for something extraordinary somewhere else. Some would travel to "magical" places in hope of finding that special ingredient that is missing in their daily lives. Others resolve to mind altering substances in order to experience something different. All in vain because as soon as their trip (the physical or the psychedelic one) is over, the whole magic disappears and they are back to the lives they tried so hard to escape from.

The story repeats itself over and over. People try to escape the dullness and monotony they created themselves. They look for something "exotic" but sooner or later, if they are completely honest with themselves, they must admit that the "exotic" is not necessarily more satisfying. Enlightenment comes when they realize that the very thing they were looking for was right where they started. 

The product

It is not a widely recognized fact that the small things in everyday life are what makes our lives special. Why not look for the extraordinary in the most ordinary? Cooking, eating, walking, gardening, writing, reading... One only has to slow down a bit and ponder. 

Very often we are told to keep an eye on the greater picture and not lose ourselves in small details. Although the big picture is important, it is the small details that eventually make it.

The big picture is necessary of course and one should not try to get lost in small details, but how sad one's life must have been when, at the end, a person realizes that  his or her life was empty and meaningless if not actually wasted. All that fortune and fame for nothing!

So, how do we add meaning to everyday life? 

The Japanese Zen masters invented an elaborate tea ceremony, for instance. In the tea ceremony each ordinary gesture is highly ritualized. The participants experience tea drinking as something extraordinary. But once again, the ritual becomes an escape. A "trip" to a place in space and time where the rules of everyday life are suspended. At lest for a while.

In our fast paced lives we do not normally have the time and the comfort to create elaborate rituals, but we can try to change our focus. Enhanced concentration and full presence are required if one wants to see the marvels of everyday life. The steps are simple:
  • stay in the present
  • slow down
  • have the courage to face your reality
  • re-evaluate your choices - more often than not less is more
  • break the routine and introduce new things
  • take responsibility for everything that is happening in your life
  • and last, but not least, stop sending text messages while eating, walking or driving
Stress, multitasking, and superficiality, among others, are the culprits, but if we slow down just a bit and concentrate on the present we can develop intimate relationship with our surroundings and for the first time see the things that we left unnoticed. 

First steps

Start slowly and take small steps to change your habits. Switch off your cellphone and take a walk through a park. Make a wholesome breakfast on Monday instead of taking coffee to go on your way to work. Celebrate your relationships as something special. Plant a garden and watch the vegetables grow. Start a journal or a blog. Go to a concert, create art, cook with friends, go dancing, take a bath, visit a museum, or take a trip. 

Yes! Take a trip not to look for what is missing in your life, but to experience the magic of traveling and, most importantly,  the magic of returning home. 

No matter what you do, remember that you do not have to go to far away places to find out how extraordinary your life can be. You have the power to give meaning to even most banal of things.

So, slow down and smell the roses! Or the freshly baked bread!

By Dominique Allmon ©2012

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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Optimism and Longevity

By Barry Bittman, MD

It's time to emerge from the doldrums.

In fact, you don't have any time to waste - especially if you want to add quality years to your life. Mayo Clinic researchers finally gave us the proof we need to kick our negative friends and loved-ones where it hurts the most - right in the attitude!

According to a recent article in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, the actual difference between optimists and pessimists just might amount to about 12 years of life. The Mayo team began by examining personality tests performed in the early and mid '60s. They proceeded to look well into future to see how things turned out. Actually they followed their subjects (about 30 years), to scientifically measure the relationship between attitude and longevity. Simply stated, they've shown what many have known all along - the mind and body are an inseparable team!

Dr. Toshihiko Maruta, the study's chief investigator stated, "The important thing is that we've proven the relationship scientifically, and made a correlation between how people see the world when they're young and how they turn out 30 years later."

You might be thinking that optimism vs. pessimism depends on one's environment, circumstances and stressors. While I'm certainly not doubting these factors play a role, I recognize that people, even under the worst conditions, have the innate capacity to be positive and hopeful.

Ultimately, it's not the stress that kills us. Rather, it's our perception of stress that makes the difference.

Perception seems to determine whether that pink slip on Friday heralds doomsday or a new chance for realizing our dreams. It has also been shown to determine the killing capacity of specific cells in our body that fight cancer. The scratch on your car door can only destroy your day if you allow it to do so. Yes, we do have a choice!

In fact, we have the capacity to change and to adopt a new belief system whenever the opportunity arises. We also have the ability to create that opportunity. I suppose that's one of the perks of being human.

And when it comes to change, we should all be experts by now. For nothing really stands still in life. As Tony DeFail and I noted in our book, Maze of Life, "three things in life are certain: death, taxes and change."

Yet what changes and what needs to change are often quite different. Some people simply don't know where to begin. I often suggest finding a role model and discovering their formula for succeeding. The one thing I can assure you is that no pessimist ever built a steady stream of successes. Why not consider these basic observations:
  • People who believe they can't - don't.
  • People who believe it's impossible - never succeed.
  • People who believe they can't win - lose.
  • People who believe life isn't worth living - die.
While we;ve heard these statements over and over again, did you ever realize that the common denominator is "belief." The good news is that beliefs are changeable. We can learn to cope and to de-stress ourselves. The capacity to develop a positive attitude is within us.

The problem, however, is that attitudinal change requires work and determination. Unfortunately, it's easier to sulk than to discover something positive. It's far simpler to sink into despair that it is to rise above a situation. It requires far less effort to wage war than to recreate peace.

So what is the formula for optimism?

Begin with a healthy dose of determination, add willingness to develop a positive belief system and sprinkle in a comforting sense of hope. Find a role model, take a class, sit in the park, watch children play and imagine how wonderful the next moment can be. For stringing together a series of wonderful moments is all it takes to create the future of our dreams.

You'll soon discover that when positive change begins within, everything seems to magically change around us. The glass that was once half empty is now the one that's half full. The obstacle we counted on (the one preventing us from moving ahead) is now seen as an opportunity in disguise. The life we failed to appreciate suddenly yields 12 more years of incredible moments. All it takes is a kick in the attitude - Mind Over Matter!

About the author:

Barry Bittman, MD is a neurologist, author, international speaker, award-winning producer and director and inventor. As CEO and Medical Director of the Mind-Body Wellness Center, a comprehensive, interdisciplinary outpatient medical facility in Meadville, PA., Dr. Bittman has pioneered a new paradigm for treating the “whole person.” Based upon extensive research, he developed Insights for Living Beyond Cancer with Bernie Siegel, MD, a program that integrates the power of mind, body and spirit with conventional medical care. Dr. Bittman has also created similar programs for individuals facing the challenges of asthma, cardiovascular disease, chronic lung disease and diabetes.

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